Following-up on an earlier post regarding the European parliamentary elections, I thought I'd say the something on the results. Here is the composition of the new parliament with the center-left bloc, the Party of European Socialists in light red and the conservative European People's Party in blue:
Most of the news outlets are presenting the results as evidence of an overall right-ward political shift across the continent. The alternative left-wing analysis might be that a recession-radicalized populist electorate is punishing social democracy for its timidity and slow response to the economic crisis.
As I see it, the real lesson of this low-turnout election is that Europeans are not particularly interested in the European Parliament, despite that body's ever-growing powers and responsibilities. Low turnouts naturally favor an unrepresentative sample of the most motivated voters, which in this case includes some pretty unsavory characters.
It might be worth pointing out that the European right is much more ideologically complicated than our good old GOP. European conservatives are at once populist and elitist, with Christian Democratic, neoliberal and Gaullist influences in the mix. Perhaps, collectively, they more closely resemble the Republican Party of 50 years ago in their diversity. Few right-wingers in Europe would support anything so barbarous as the death penalty, torture, or a "free market" approach to health care.
The low voter participation should alarm us because the European Parliament might be a prototype for future representative international institutions.
The left's most predictable argument is that voters will turn out once they see an exciting, transformative platform that will address their needs and concerns. But I think there is a more fundamental problem with representative government on such a vast scale that we have yet to figure out and resolve. If, in many ways, Washington D.C. is far-removed from neighboring Baltimore, imagine how distant Strasbourg or Brussels must seem from a working class neighborhood in Lisbon or a little village in Lithuania.
I'm pretty skeptical of left-wing localism, especially with regards to economics, but the localist arguments against large-scale democracy can't be easily dismissed. I think it's time for some brainstorming.